- Two straight sweeps, four straight series wins, 10-2 over the last twelve games, and a 5-game lead over the Angels -- life is back to being pretty OK for right now. Not that it ever wasn't, but the reasons for worry have dissipated. Now the Rangers need only to go 3-2 over their next five games to match their season-starting 15-4 streak.
- It's going to be very, very nice to have the Astros in the division next season. I'm normally wary of young teams, because young teams tend to get better as time progresses (this is why the Royals worry me) but the Astros have youth without significant talent; they're young and sub-mediocre, instead of young and getting better (this is why I'm also not worried about the Athletics).
- The team is 8-1 in NL parks this season. The coaching staff seems far more comfortable playing under dopey NL rules this season than they have been in years past, where it felt like Ron Washington would do something (call for a bunt, intentionally walk someone to get to the pitcher in the batting order, pinch-hit with his 25th man for the platoon advantage) just for the sake of doing it, rather than the situation truly calling for it. That could be a very good thing, if the Rangers once again have the good fortune to again play in the last game of the year.
- Colorado is up next, and they're doing something very, very strange. They've gone to a four-man rotation. This in and of itself is unusal (the Angels notably did it for a stretch last year, because they were trying to convince themselves the race wasn't over in late August. It was.) but the condition Rockies manager Jim Tracy has attached to it makes it bizarre; he's limiting each starter to 75 pitchers per start.
See, if you shorten your rotation, you're generally doing it because who would be the fifth man in your rotation (consider the Rangers' Scott Feldman) is so significantly worse than the fourth man (Justin Grimm, to the Rangers) that you want to take the fifth man's innings away, and spread them among your top four pitchers.
What Tracy's doing, in effect, is making sure that the #5/6/7 pitchers in the team's pecking order are pitching nearly as much as #'s 1/2/3/4. I'm pretty sure, somewhere in his office, there's a whiteboard that says the following;
Step 1: 4 starters/ 75 pitch limit
Step 3: Profit!
This is another way of saying if you're going to the ballpark this weekend, make sure to cheer when a Ranger takes a pitch or fouls one off, against a starter, because the Rockies are just begging teams to thrash their bullpens.
- Over the Rangers' past 9 games, the team's starters have pitched 54.1 innings, striking out 61 while walking 11. This is notable because that stretch includes two starts from the team's #6 starter (Feldman) and one from the #8 starter (Grimm). Grimm is due up again Monday, and will likely make at least one more start before moving back to the minors when Derek Holland returns (assuming good health across the rest of the rotation). I would guess Grimm goes to Round Rock, rather than Frisco, given that the Frisco rotation has been solid, and Grimm's replacement (Nick Tepesch) has looked great in his 2 AA starts (14.2 IP, 16 baserunners allowed (13 hits, 3 walks), 10 K's).
- Speaking of Feldman, he did not recive the news of his return to the bullpen well. I've always liked Scott Feldman, because even though he's mediocre, there's always a need for at least mediocre pitching over a 162-game season. But, he is mediocre, and mediocre is likely the best he'll ever be over a long stretch of time. Given that his (poorly advised) contract situation is the only thing that kept him on a major league roster last season (after he had cleared league-wide waivers, in which any team could have had him simply for the cost of postage), I would think some 'just happy to be here' and 'do whatever it takes to help the team win' tropes should be used here, rather than 'I'm not happy'.
- Josh Hamilton hit the ball the opposite way a few times yesterday, which is a good sign. His spray chart shows a pretty good reason for teams employing the shift against him, and for pitchers pitching him the way they have been. Baseball is a game of constant evolution, and Josh has likely let pitchers have the edge against him for too long.
- The moves sorrounding Mitch Moreland's hamstring injury will be interesting; in that there's no obvious replacement for him on the farm (except for Mike Olt, who is not a first baseman, and who is also not lefthanded, and who also is far too good of a baseball player to be a backup third baseman and third string right handed bench bat in the majors). Earlier in the year, Yangervis Solarte might have hit himself into consideration, but he's cooled off drastically over the last few weeks -- and while he has some positional flexibility (primarily a second baseman, but he's also played third and some corner outfield) first base isn't in his bag of tricks. And while he's a switch-hitter who's better against lefties, he hasn't hit them at a rate you would expect of a first basemen with platoon advantage this season.
- If they go outside the team, a name to keep in mind is Boston's Kevin Youkilis. He's righthanded, but could give the team another first baseman and DH (and another glove at third, to help keep Beltre fresh). He's expensive (making $12 million this year, with a $13 million option/ $1 million buyout next season) but that stands to either lower his asking price in talent returning ( in the case that Boston doesn't pick up any of his salary) and/or lower the talent returning in exchange for him.
The Red Sox have some bullpen defenciencies, so a trade involving Koji Uehara and/or Mark Lowe could intrigue them. That would work to balance out (somewhat) the salaries involved.
Of course, the Red Sox want to trade Youkilis because he hasn't been good this year, so consider that, as well.